Thursday, May 18 - Marsh Harbour
Looking at all the boats and listening to all the voices every morning, I'm reminded that this cruising lifestyle that we've adopted is hardly something unique. All the folks at home seem to think that we're pioneering our way around the ocean, but in fact there are thousands of people doing the same thing right here in the Bahamas every day. Indeed, listening to a number of boats who are going straight offshore up from here to New England I know that many are far more adventurous than we will ever be.
Marsh Harbour is a good anchorage with good facilities and that excellent sense of a cruising community. Someone here has gone to some expense to make the place nice, putting sidewalks, flowering plants, and a "rest a while" station with map near the marina. There are bars and restaurants for those with the money to partake in them. Still, I couldn't see us spending more than a few days here. I understand now why Skipper Bob, in his "Bahamas Bound" planning guide, advises first-timers to do the Abacos while just about every other cruiser we met strongly preferred the Exumas. What we've seen of the Abacos so far is far more developed, with lots of opportunities to grab a mooring, duck into a marina or get something fixed...almost like an extended suburb of Florida. There isn't a store equal to Solomons here in Marsh Harbour in all of the Exumas, including George Town--you're much more on your own down there--but for me the raw beauty of the Exumas more than makes up for any lack of creature comforts.
There was no wind so we motored the five miles over here from Man-O-War, and the shaft/cutlass bearing seemed to do okay. I think it's likely we can make it back to Florida, probably Fort Pierce, before doing any major repairs.
Extra! In trying to pick a photograph for the title shot for this two week period, I ended up with a couple of photos that I liked and wanted to use somehow, but doubted that I would ever fit them in. Now, for the first time on public display is my updated collection of title photos I never used.
Saturday, May 20 - Hope Town
We left Marsh Harbour this morning and motored around the point to go snorkeling at Mermaid Reef. Actually, we anchored about a mile away in some grassy sand after seeing hard bottom closer in, but of course when we actually got into the water we found plenty of good anchoring sand right next to the reef. The snorkeling was good with lots of fish and the reef is very accessible since it's right off a beach. Visibility was about 25 feet, which is fantastic by Tennessee standards but not quite as good as we got used to in the Exumas and Far Out Islands.
After lunch we motored into Hope Town on the rising tide just to have a look around, intended to anchor elsewhere, but the town looked so inviting that we picked up a mooring ($20/night from Hope Town Marina) and stayed put. The high point of our afternoon in Hope Town was, of course, the lighthouse--it's 120 feet above sea level, after all--one of the last kerosene-burning manually operated lighthouses still in operation. However, the narrow lanes between colorful rental cottages, the beautiful beach on the Atlantic side, the playground with its shaded teeter-totter, not to mention the free wireless Internet in the harbour (maybe that $20 plays into this), makes Hope Town a very nice place to spend a day or two.
Thanks to the improved Internet access, we were finally able to check the old email@example.com e-mail address properly for the first time since Luperon and were very pleased to see we had previously undetected mail from several friends, including Godwin on Bonjangles and our beloved friends Janet, Rhonda and Tye the Cat on Promise. We were amazed to know that Promise just left the Abacos a couple of weeks ago. If we'd known we were that close, we would have tried to get here sooner, but we hope to see them again when we go up the east coast.
Sunday, May 21 - Guana Cay
We listened to a bit of drama on the VHF as we were preparing to leave the harbour. A sailboat had gone up on the reef at the South Man-O-War inlet, and seemed a little clueless about what to do. Perhaps it was a language barrier, but more likely they really didn't know. The local BASRA volunteers eventually started trying to find someone to help pull them off on the rising tide, but eventually a passing boat took pity and freed them. There was no word of a boat sinking, so perhaps no lasting harm was done. In the meantime we motored about ten miles from Hope Town to Fishers Bay at Guana Cay, where we anchored in the company of no less than thirty other boats. We dinghied ashore to the very posh Blue Water Grill and spent some time talking with the owner, Edmund, who was later described to us as being the unofficial mayor of the Cay. The Grill was the first place we started seeing "No Golf on Guana!" signs, and these grew ever more numerous after we dinghied over to the Guana Beach Resort to get a little closer to town. Apparently the "Discovery Land Company" is planning marina and golf course to the north at Baker's Bay, which was once a cruise ship playground. "Why give a billion dollar developer exemption from taxes for 20 years?" a big sign says at the harbour, while another says, "Crown Land for Bahamians." Apparently golf is not all that popular on Guana Cay, particularly with the reefs that may have to face the run-off.
A couple we met on the dock had described the beach bar Nippers as a "fraternity party," and they were quite right. Bright pastels, swimming pools, dance music, guys half passed out on the beach below: this was Nippers, the party headquarters of this entire area. Apparently the reminder that "the wages of sin are death" sign at the cemetery on the path to Nippers is quickly forgotten. I have to wonder if the anti-golf course signs will be any more effective.
Poscript: Later I was able to visit the website of the Discovery Land Company and view what is one of the most comically horrific mission statements I have ever seen:
I honestly don't know whether to laugh or to cry when I read that. Apparently the residents of Great Guana are still fighting the development in court, although the past history of the Bahamas, where entire islands are sold to cruise ship companies, doesn't bode well for them (see Eco-Friendly Development Set To Resume). There is apparently a similar fight between the traditional and tourist economies taking place on the Cat Island, where a resort/casino is planned for the Atlantic shores. For more info on Bakers Bay, see Little Gidding's log and the Save Guana Cay Foundation's site, plus, of course, the aforementioned Discovery Land Company site.
Monday, May 22 - Green Turtle Cay
Today we negotiated the treacherous Whale Passage (certain death in the wrong conditions, ridiculously easy when there is no swell breaking as we had today) and anchored just off the harbour at Green Turtle Cay. We were most impressed by the dinghy dock, the pretty little town, the Blue Bee Bar, and especially the memorial sculpture garden with its bronze statues of settlers and citizens. The centerpiece of the garden is a life sized statue of two women, one white and one black, landing on a Bahamian beach. It was hot enough that we had to stop two or three times for ice cream before we got back to the boat.
Ship's Note: I added ten gallons of diesel to the tank (574 engine hours), then refilled the jerry jugs at Green Turtle Cay Marina. We're now fueled to make it to Florida.
Tuesday, May 23 - Manjack Cay
Now it's a few hours later, and we've returned from a dinghy trip around the southern tip of the island to the Atlantic beaches. In the shallow water between Manjack and Crab Cays we saw jellyfish, sea stars, and two sea turtles. Some of the guidebooks mentioned a dock leading to a nature trail through the mangroves, but the pier was wrecked and no path could be seen. However, the beaches on the Atlantic side were both beautiful and majestic, with lots of rocks and some decent snorkeling just off the beach. Although there are more than a dozen boats in the anchorage with us tonight, there is more than enough deserted beach to go around. Despite our first impressions of islands that are overdeveloped, the Abacos do have their charms.
(Editor's Note: We had noticed a nice beach and house near our anchorage at Manjack and I had purposefully kept my distance, thinking the last thing the residents wanted was cruisers cluttering their beach. Actually, I've since heard they are former cruisers themselves and welcome visits ashore, with a hammock and slide and other goodies. Apparently even the Internet access in the harbor is no accident.)
Wednesday, May 24 - Powell Cay
Back at the dinghy, we washed off again and then went snorkeling for good measure. Although the visibility wasn't great (about twenty feet), there were plenty of fish including sea stars and two lobster along a cliff between two beaches. We retreated to the boat in late afternoon for a nap.
Thursday, May 25 - Allans Cay
We dinghied towards the head of the anchorage bay and then hiked a marked trail towards the Atlantic side. The trail is the remains of an old road that used to lead to a U.S. missile tracking station, but if there are any significant ruins they are hard to see in all the growth. There was some poisonwood on this trail but it was easily avoided and someone had marked the most obnoxious specimen with a little sign that said, "Poisonwood: like poison ivy, but worse!" Cruisers have left lots of memorabilia on hanging from the "memory trees" on the beach, generally old floats, bottles, and driftwood, but there was a spatula and even the front cowling of a car hanging there as well. It was fun to see a T-shirt labeled "Florida Sailing Singles" from our friends Sam and Margie on Encantada documenting five years of Abacos cruising.
Friday, May 26 - Great Sale Cay
We talked for a while with Rich and Chris on the Tartan 3800 Tardis, who are heading for Fort Pierce around 11:00 tomorrow morning. That sounded good to us. By evening we should be moving off the banks into the Florida Straits, arriving at the Fort Pierce inlet around 8:00 AM. There probably won't be much wind, but if the old girl can motor this far, she ought to be able to get us home.
Sunday, May 28 - Fort Pierce, Florida
Later, I was sitting in the cockpit when a small fluffy bird (a first year male American redstart as I found out later from Robert Smith) landed on my shoulder. The closest land was 25 miles at West End so he had flown some distance. The obviously tired bird explored the entire boat, from the dinghy in the davits to the bow, then hopped below and toured every cabin before settling down for a nap on the nav station counter. He was completely oblivious to our presence and also fairly oblivious to the sugar, fruit, and water we tried to put out in front of him. Sometime in the early morning hours I noticed he was gone from the nav station so we can only assume he jumped ship.
While Tardis headed up the ICW to Vero Beach, we checked out a shallow anchorage in front of Harbortown Marina but then decided to go in and get a slip. The marina has a pay phone for calling U.S. Customs and advises grabbing a chair because it often takes a while. For me, thanks to a fellow cruiser who was able to hand me the phone after he had finished, it only took about a half hour. However, for reasons that no one I have asked has been able to tell me, all of us on the boat still have to go out to the airport and check in personally. If someone can tell me a scenario in which this procedure could actually help enhance national security, please do so and I will gladly give you a dollar.
Coming into the inlet was culture shock for me. So many boats, lights, high-rise buildings, and commotion! I feel like we're suddenly in Las Vegas. For the moment, I think I'll sleep for a while before wading back into the rush of America on a holiday weekend.
Monday, May 29 - Fort Pierce, Florida
Tuesday, May 30 - Fort Pierce, Florida
Current plans are to meet Krissy and Robert at St. Mary's on June 10 and (weather and boat repairs permitting) anchor overnight at Cumberland Island.